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Helping a Loved One Recover From a Stroke


Christina Baldasari, L.P.T.

Doylestown Hospital, Doylestown, Pennsylvania

William Bulman, MD

Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center

Medically Reviewed On: October 17, 2013

What is a Stroke?

Stroke is one of the most feared consequences of the aging process. In the United States alone, roughly 730,000 people suffer from strokes each year. Of those, approximately 150,000 die at the time of their stroke or during the subsequent hospitalization, making stroke the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer. Three-quarters of those who suffer from strokes do survive, however. For many older men and women, the fear of suffering with permanent disability after a stroke is as profound as the fear of stroke itself.

A stroke occurs when a part of the brain is deprived of blood, a result of either a ruptured blood vessel or, more commonly, a blockage in a vessel caused by a blood clot. Cut off from its blood supply, that part of the brain is damaged or dies. Strokes can be large or small, and any part of the brain may be affected. When a portion of the brain is damaged as the consequence of a stroke, the mental or physical functions controlled by that particular area may be lost.

This article will discuss life after a debilitating stroke. It is important to note that a stroke may be treated or even reversed if a person receives emergent medical care after the onset of stroke symptoms. For more on the signs and symptoms of stroke, as well as the available treatments, see the articles in Healthology's focus area entitled 'Stroke'.

Physical Consequences

The effects of stroke vary considerably, depending on the particular part of the brain affected, and the size of the area involved. A stroke can leave a person with one or more of the following problems:

- Paralysis in one limb or on one side of the body or face
- Loss of sensation
- Loss of balance
- Loss of bladder control
- Decreased level of consciousness or alertness
- Complete or partial blindness
- Swallowing difficulties
- Speech difficulties or inability to speak
- Thought and memory difficulties


There is wide variability in stroke recovery, depending on age, other medical problems, and the type and severity of the stroke itself. The damage done to the brain during a stroke causes the brain to swell. In the two to three weeks following a stroke, this swelling gradually decreases. As the swelling decreases, some or all of a person's lost function can return. The time frame for recovery can be much longer, however, with gradual improvement over a period of up to a year. Doctors use a simplified rule-of-thumb to give patients and families an idea of what they can hope for in terms of recovery. If recovery is possible, 50% of the recovery can be expected in the first month, 75% in the first 3 months, and 100% at 12 months after the stroke. If function has not returned after a year, it is unlikely to come back.

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